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Back to the Trails: Sun Valley, Idaho

Jul 15, 2020
by Brice Shirbach  

Views: 699    Faves: 2    Comments: 0

In the late 19th century, Ketchum, Idaho was a booming mining town. Originally called Leadville, the town was home to several smelters in the 1880's, and was responsible for processing large quantities of silver and lead for years. Eventually things slowed for Ketchum, and the prosperity that it saw for decades came to an end. Years later and inspired by the success of Lake Placid's Winter Olympics in 1932, and spurred by the growing popularity of alpine skiing in the States, W. Averell Harriman was determined to develop the country's first destination mountain resort, similar to what he had seen on trips to Europe. Enlisting the help of Count Felix Schaffgosch, the pair determined that Ketchum's beautiful landscape, moderate elevation, abundant sunshine, and the prominence of Bald Mountain overlooking town made for an ideal landing spot for the country's preeminent winter destination and the world's first chairlifts were installed in 1936. In the nearly 80 years since, Sun Valley/Ketchum has been lauded as a 4-season adventure paradise, and in recent years mountain biking has become a prominent enterprise in town and throughout the surrounding area, and given the current circumstances the world finds itself facing with the COVID-19 pandemic, it's as important as ever to head outside for some fresh air and space on two wheels.

Lay of the Land:

Situated at just under 6,000 feet above sea level, Sun Valley rests at the base of Bald Mountain, a 9,150 foot tall mountain in the heart of Sawtooth National Forest. There are several other noteworthy summits surrounding town, several of which top out above 9,000 feet, and most have trails on them. Average high temps creep just into the. 80's during the summer months, but the humidity remains low and the overnight temps often dip below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. The high-desert climate mixes open sage with timber making for dry and dusty conditions more often than not. There is a noteworthy range of riding options throughout the region that makes for some diverse trail styles for riders of all abilities from far-out adventure rides to mellow loops. Please note that the lifts will not be spinning during the 2020 riding season.

Galena has over 30 miles of forested and flowy trails, with some descents covering 1,500 vertical feet that end in town. Galena Lodge offers up guided tours, as well as legendary post-ride eats. Spring Creek is a playful, flowy 6-mile intermediate ride that drops a total of nearly 1,600 feet while still keeping the legs honest with 1,000 feet of climbing as well.

Just south of town between Buttercup Mountain and Kelly Mountain is where you'll find some properly rugged, more backcountry oriented trails to explore. Link up Wolftone - Deer Creek - North Fork trails for a quietly awesome adventure.

If you'd like to fully exhaust yourself on some sublime ribbons of alpine singletrack, try this: Start on Osberg Ridge Trail, turn left onto Adam's Gulch, make another left at Harper's and keep pedaling from the bottom straight to Lefty's for a beer.

What's New:
Sun Valley and the rest of Idaho are currently in the final phase of reopening and while visitors are allowed to enter the state, the community is asking that people continue to practice social distancing measures. That includes wearing a mask while visiting businesses or whenever social distancing is not possible, practicing air high fives, and giving each other 6 feet of space. Sun Valley published a resource for how to better explore the area during the pandemic called Mindfulness in the Mountains, and it's certainly worth a read.

photo courtesy of Visit Sun Valley
Home to the world's first chairlifts, Sun Valley will be hitting the pause button on bike park operations this year. Photo courtesy of Visit Sun Valley.

Local Bike Shops:
Sun Valley has several top notch options for your bike sales and service needs. PK's Bike Shop offers full suspension demos and rentals, as well as cruiser rentals for those looking to explore the area without needing to pack a bike. Backwoods Mountain Sports is the area's premier shop for backcountry exploration. The Elephant's Perch has been serving Sun Valley for over 40 years. Sturtevants offers up the area's only trailhead shuttle service, as well as women's shop rides. As is the case around the world, please wear a mask and practice social distancing guidelines anytime you enter any of these businesses.

Local Mountain Biking Clubs:
From the The Wood River Trails Coalition: "The WRTC is a trail stewardship organization working to create, maintain and sustain our trail network for all users."

Restaurants and Accommodation:
As a longtime outdoor recreation hotspot, Sun Valley is well equipped for visitors and their bikes with a range of options for all budgets, and plenty of bike-centric vibes.

Limelight Hotel is a 99-room property in the heart of downtown Ketchum, with an on-site bike shop and bike storage as well.
Hipster and boutique vibes abound at Hotel Ketchum.
Camping in the surrounding mountain ranges is something special, and it's arguably the most responsible means of travel at the moment. Fortunately, there are plenty of options throughout the region from RV hookups to primitive dispersed sites.

The Warfield Distillery and Brewery has - you guessed it - plenty of tasty brews and spirits to keep you smiling after your ride, as well as some super tasty eats to replenish all of those calories you'll burn in the mountains.
Lefty's is the go-to for tasty and cheap eats and drinks post-ride.
If you're looking for something a bit different, try Rickshaw's Asian streetfood.
Powerhouse is a bike shop with burgers and beers on tap. Bikes, burgers, beers. Yes.
Sawtooth Brewery is a staple in the area, with a public house as well as a roaming food truck.

Must Dos:
Considered by many to be the crown jewel of spring creeks in all of the Rocky Mountains, Silver Creek is a fly fisherman's paradise. Located about 40 miles south of town and managed by The Nature Conservancy, these calm and clear waters are frequented by massive rainbow and brown trout. A variety of wildlife frequent the area as well, including moose, elk, and several species of raptor. While it's noteworthy for requiring patience even among experienced fisherman, those who might be less interested in casting and more interested in relaxing can always opt for a float down the gentle gradient as well.

Of course Sun Valley famously inspired the works of one of America's most famous authors, Ernest Hemingway, and for those who interested in taking a deep dive into his life and times are encouraged to do so. His favorite watering hole, hunting ground, home, and final resting place are all available to those who want a better glimpse into the life and sensibilities of the revered novelist.

For more things to do, see, and eat in Sun Valley click here

Sun Valley mountain biking trails

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  • 9 2
 You forgot the only year round Bicycle shop in the valley! Idaho Cycles is a full service shop with Evil, Cannondale and Intense bikes. I know we are new but come on..........
  • 2 0
 Stopped there last August on the way up to ride. Super nice shop.
  • 3 0
 @Ajorda: thanks! We have a new permanent location in town. If you get back come see us!
  • 1 0
 @sinofone1: I was planning another trip this year but COVID had me cut my travel plans short until next year. I'll make sure to stop in next time I'm up there.
  • 4 0
 Highly recommend Idaho Cycles. Great service and passionate about the sport. Top-notch owner/mechanic.
  • 1 0
 @Ajorda: we shall look forward to it, stay healthy!
  • 1 0
 Have you marked yourself down on Trailforks as well as Google as a shop?

PM me for any help. I Admin WA, but can help in my nearby areas as well!
  • 11 4
 Ida-flow the whole valley is like riding a green bike park trail. Snoozetown USA. Good place to pick up a "used" bike though, they give out a disposable toothbrush and floss with each one!
  • 2 0
 Very true
  • 1 0
 Thanks for sharing bro!
  • 4 1
 Prolly gonna get a few downvotes here, but I have always felt obligated ever since my Canadian friends started asking if they should do mountain bike trips to Sun Valley after it was featured in Roam. If you are a XC person, you'll have a blast there cruising endless miles of buttery smooth trails with great views, and you'll like it even more if you're into wine, fine dining, and general snobbery. If you're looking for anything remotely technical, there are probably 1000 places that are's literally like stepping into a time capsule and seeing what mountain biking looked like in the early late 80's.
  • 1 0
 Sick bro!
  • 1 0
 that's what I like, Nice view and smooth trials. Don't need to just do hard core all the time.
  • 2 0
 As someone who wants to make a trip to sun valley this year, is the whole area hardtail-friendly? What about the lift bike park (bald mountain?) I wanna take my enduro bike just in case but I also want to try some of the “XC paradise” trails and would want all the efficiency I can get
  • 2 0
 IMO yes, everything in Sun Valley would be fine to ride on a hardtail. 80% of trails there I would prefer to ride on a hardtail and the other 20% are definitely rideable on a hardtail.
  • 1 0
 Yes. Most are hardtail friendly. That said, a short travel 29er rocks. I'd look into Bald Mountain before your trip. I'm pretty sure the lifts are closed this summer.
  • 5 0
 Only in merica' do we sweep trails with cute green garden rakes....
  • 2 0
 sidewalk central Smile stay away
  • 2 1
 @rockymountainsrule: That trail has a shit ton of shale. It makes sense that they would sweep it off.
  • 1 0
 They do that in Japan with Bamboo rakes
  • 4 0
 What does the title shot have a picture of Stanley, but says Sun Valley, ID? Stanley is 60 miles away from Sun Valley.
  • 1 0
 I don't know Idaho
  • 1 0
 @Markedconn: you misspelled Ohio
  • 1 0
 Sun Valley is my happy place. I am fortunate to spend a lot of time up there because my fiance's family all lives up there and it is a 2 hour drive from my house.
  • 2 0
 Since you're in the area, hope you hit up McCall. Good stuff going on out there.
  • 3 0
 Agreed. If I'm making a day trip from Boise these days, I almost always opt for McCall, which has better dirt, more variety, and rowdier trails. Sun Valley is great for long backcountry XC rides, though.
  • 1 0
 @stalkinghorse: I have a place to stay in Sun Valley and we visit family, so I usually head up that way. The terrain is still world class, just in a different way than McCall.
  • 2 0
 Sorry, if it came out wrong, I really enjoy Sun Valley- it's beautiful and a great place to bust your lungs- but they already get all the press. I'm enamored with the PLT though. If that's the direction McCall is going- wow. Between Jug and Tamarack and Brundage and Bear Basin and how at least Bear Basin/Brundage all connect- yup
  • 1 0
 @ICKYBOD: No, no, didn't come out wrong. I get the criticism of Sun Valley's terrain and I think it is fair for the most part. They do need to get more tech features built. Let's just be glad that we live in such a rad place to mountain bike (especially considering the lack of crowds).
  • 1 0
 @HB208: Sun Valley/Ketchum fell behind on the progression of MTB, but looks like they are trying to catch up. The area does seem to cater to the senior folks, because there are a lot of older folks that live/come there...hopefully these press releases help change that? On an unfair note, there isn’t a lake or reservoir to play in, like McCall, Stanley, Tamarack, or Boise for that matter. Still a really neat area with awesome views and rich history.
  • 1 0
 @kuna26: Yeah, the area really is more of an xc paradise, but yes, trail builders are actively working on building more challenging terrain. The potential is certainly there and it will get better over time. Jug mountain and Tamarack have certainly pushed the needle on biking in SW Idaho.
  • 1 0
  • 2 1
 Best riding in SW Idaho: 1) Tamarack 2) McCall/Donnelly 3) Sun Valley/ Stanley/Lowman 4) Boise
  • 3 2
 place fucking sucks don't come here

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